Brown Speaks to Ohio Farm Bureau

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, delivered the following remarks to the Ohio Farm Bureau. 

Brown’s Remarks to the Ohio Farm Bureau as Prepared for Delivery

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 

Thank you, Lane, for that introduction. It’s always good to speak with you. 

My thanks to:

  • Frank Burkett – for his leadership of the OFBF.
  • Adam, Yvonne, and Jack at Ohio Farm Bureau.
  • The wait staff – we always honor hourly wage earners, who never get paid as much as they deserve

If this were any other crowd, I might apologize to you for the early hour of this speech. But I know for Ohio farmers, this is probably a late start.

Many of you have heard me say that I’m proud to be the first Ohio Senator on the Ag Committee in fifty years.

Ag is one of the economic engines of our state. And it’s because of you that we have the most secure and efficient food system on the planet. Americans spend far less of their income on food than most of the world, and that makes a real difference in people’s lives.

But before I dive into the prospects for the next Farm Bill and what I’ll be fighting for on behalf of Ohio agriculture, I wanted to walk through where we’ve been, and where we are going in the next five to ten years.

I’ve learned that that only way to get anything done is to work across the aisle.

This will be my third Farm Bill in the Senate and those same lessons apply.

That’s one of the reasons I worked to get on the Senate Ag Committee because it has a reputation – along with the Veterans’ Committee, which I am also proud to serve on – for being one of the most bipartisan committees in the Senate. And I am proud to work with Senator Roberts and Senator Stabenow to continue that tradition.

I also fought to get on the Ag Committee because I know how important its work is to our state—from opening new markets for farmers, to investing in clean drinking water and promoting broadband in rural communities, to making sure children from Appalachia to inner cities aren’t going hungry. 

During my first Farm bill back in 2007, I knew I had to brush up on everything from the intricacies of the dairy program to Title I policies to the differences between the alphabet soup of conservation programs administered by NRCS and FSA.

And the best way to do that was to listen to Ohio farmers. The best ideas don’t come out of Washington. The Senate Ag Committee is important, but that’s not where the real innovation happens in our food supply chain.

President Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.”

With the help of Ohio Farm Bureau and other groups across the state, I went around the state holding roundtables, talking to farmers about the challenges on the farm, or in their villages, or about how the inability to access credit was holding back the growth of their business.

The first roundtable was at the Hirsch Fruit Farm in Chillicothe. We held one at a nursery in Lake County and another one at a diversified livestock and grain operation in Henry County.

Those roundtables are where we had the first conversations that led to real changes we passed through the Farm Bill. I heard ideas that led to changes in Title I. I worked with colleagues of both parties to secure changes to promote local agriculture and small producers across the state.

And while I think the 2008 Farm Bill was a success, we know it was coupled with a run of good weather, decent yields, great prices, and even better luck.

But as every farmer knows, high prices never last and mother nature is fickle.

In that spirt of enjoying the boomtimes—at least if you were selling corn or beans—heading into the 2012 Farm Bill, I heard from farmers that it was time to revamp our farm safety program.

I held more roundtables. I talked to more farmers.

And over and over, I heard that you wanted to plant for the market—to maximize your returns—not plant for the program like the old policies encouraged.

So, after hearing from farmers across the state—and working with Carl Zulaf, my favorite ag economist—I worked with my Republican friend from South Dakota, John Thune, to introduce the bill that would become the ARC program.

And as we’ve seen prices decline and incomes drop, ARC has been there to help farmers weather the downturn.

Nearly 100,000 Ohio farmers from across the state took advantage of the safety net programs in 2016. ARC paid out more than $400 million to producers in Ohio.

We worked on other provisions in the last Farm Bill—investing in bio-based manufacturing to increase markets for Ohio crops, increasing investment and resources to promote local foods and to make it easier for beginning farmers to enter the business. 

We couldn’t have accomplished all this without each other.

Ohio Farm Bureau has been such a critical partner in the work to invest, improve, and promote Ohio agriculture in the Farm Bill.

And it’s time for another round.

As we work on the next Farm Bill this year, we’re doing more roundtables, more conversations, more listening, and we’re gathering more ideas.

Some of you who were farming in the ‘80s have seen the warning signs in today’s farm economy.  

Commodity prices remain low and the USDA projects that net farm income could drop for the fifth straight year and reach the lowest levels since 2006.

I’ve heard from you how important protecting ARC will be in that climate.

And in the next couple of weeks, Senator Thune and I will again be introducing a bipartisan bill that ensures ARC remains a viable part of the farm safety net.

I also talked with Ohio Dairy farmers last year about how the current dairy program wasn’t working nearly as well. The good news, that’s a fix we made even before the next Farm Bill.

The bipartisan budget agreement we passed earlier this year included major improvements to the farm safety net specifically for dairy farmers. It’s going to mean better and cheaper coverage for Ohio dairymen.

Before the last Farm Bill, I heard from a lot of folks about the challenges of connecting farmers who are looking to find new markets for their products with Ohio families eager to buy fresh, locally-grown food.

It’s a pretty simple idea:

Why should Ohioans buy raspberries from California, when they could buy them from a farm in Knox County? Why should we buy apples from Chile when we could get them from the Hirsch Fruit Farm in Chillicothe?

That’s why I introduced the first Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act five years ago, and why we included it in the bipartisan 2014 Farm Bill.

We know the programs in that bill worked. We need to build on what we learned, make these programs permanent, and expand them. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Local FARMs bill with Republican Susan Collins to help farmers and make the improvements necessary to make local and regional food systems even stronger.

We must also refocus our efforts to improve water quality across the state—that means a strong conservation title that promotes working lands and targets the most sensitive waterways.

Today, I’m introducing a bipartisan bill with Iowa Republican Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley to do that. It would improve the Conservation Reserve Program by prioritizing the acres enrolled in the program.

If we target the highest priority lands, we hope we will see improvements in water quality and taxpayers will see more bang for their buck.

I’ve also heard from Farm Bureau members across the state that we need to make working lands programs work better. That’s why our bill includes a number of reforms to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) that will make these programs more user-friendly for farmers.

After all, these programs only work if farmers are actually participating in them.

It won’t surprise you that aside from farm policy, one thing I hear over and over – in Ohio’s rural communities, yes, but also in small towns and suburbs, and cities all across our state – is that the opioid epidemic is devastating our state.

We have talked about this the past few years, and we’re going to keep talking about it, because it affects our economy, our health care, our schools, and yes, our farmers.

In December, I stood in the Oval Office with Senator Portman and President Trump as the President signed my bipartisan INTERDICT Act into law. It will give Customs and Border Protection new tools to help keep illegal fentanyl out of Ohio.

That’s why Rob and I introduced a bill known as CARA 2.0 to provide additional resources to Ohio communities to fight the addiction epidemic.  

And the bipartisan budget agreement also provides $6 billion over the next two years. Now I’m working with my colleagues to make sure this money gets to local communities in Ohio quickly.

The only way we will stop this epidemic is by combatting it at every level – from prevention to treatment to recovery.

And as we have these conversations and roundtables, I want to hear what’s working, and what isn’t. What you’re seeing and hearing when it comes to farm policy, yes, but also in all these other issues important to your communities.

Because ultimately, one of the most important things we do on the ag committee is help the places that are too often overlooked by Washington.

And as we—hopefully—mark up the Farm Bill next month in the Senate Ag Committee, I’ll be fighting to make sure Ohio agriculture has a seat at the table.

When we invest in Ohio agriculture and our rural areas, we see big benefits.

This next Farm Bill is an opportunity to grow the local economies of the future and reinvest in small towns across Ohio. And Ohio Farm Bureau is such an important partner in those efforts.